The defense lawyers in the Robert Wone case are urging a D.C. Superior Court judge to dismiss obstruction and conspiracy charges, saying the government's evidence doesn’t support the allegations.
Victor Zaborsky, Dylan Ward and former Arent Fox partner Joseph Price were indicted in January on obstruction, conspiracy and evidence tampering charges tied to the fatal stabbing of Wone in August 2006. None of the men, who lived together in Northwest Washington, are charged with murder.
The defendants’ lawyers—including Robert Spagnoletti, Bernie Grimm and Thomas Connolly—filed a motion to dismiss the obstruction and conspiracy charges Thursday. The government is planning to respond by December, assistant U.S. attorney Glenn Kirschner said at a status conference this afternoon. (Click here for a copy of the motion.)
The defense argument challenging the obstruction charge says the government has failed to show there was a necessary “official proceeding” at the time the defendants were alleged to have impeded D.C. police. The investigation began after Zaborsky’s phone call to police. Anything before that call, the defense lawyers say, cannot constitute obstruction.
An “official proceeding” includes any trial, hearing, investigation, or other proceedings in a court or before the D.C. Council. Prosecutors in the Wone case identify the official proceeding as the investigation of Wone’s murder.
The government alleges the defendants made false statements to misdirect the investigation once it was underway. The defense lawyers say “factually and legally” that false statements to the police alone does not rise to obstruction of justice.
“The government’s tactics are obvious and constitutionally troubling,” the defense lawyers said in the motion to dismiss. “Unable to prove who actually killed Robert Wone, the government has accused the defendants of obstructing justice for not confessing to the [murder].”
Without "actionable" obstruction, the lawyers say there is no conspiracy.
At the hearing today in Superior Court, there was more back-and-forth on discovery issues as the defense and prosecution hammer out access to the evidence. Trial is scheduled for May.
One familiar face in the courtroom for the past year may not be sitting on the bench then.
Defense lawyer David Schertler of Schertler & Onorato said the defense has filed court papers seeking to keep Judge Frederick Weisberg on the Wone case after another judge, Lynn Leibowitz, inherits Weisberg’s calendar in January. Calendars rotate from judge to judge.
Schertler said that in the interests of judicial economy and consistency, the defense wants Weisberg to remain on the case. Chief Judge Lee Satterfield has the final say whether Weisberg remains the presiding judge. Weisberg said in court he is unlikely to remain on the case. Liebowitz is a former federal prosecutor who at one point was the acting chief of the homicide section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
Today in court, Weisberg denied without prejudice a defense motion to acquire notes prepared by the government’s DNA experts. Grimm of Cozen O’Connor argued that the notes are essential for the defense experts, who want to review how the government examined DNA evidence. Grimm said the Wone case is “win, lose or draw” on the battery of experts for both sides.